In retrospect, there were so many red flags. The pre-fight meeting. The walk to the bus. Hell, the bus ride itself. Take your pick. After all, who sends three naive kids trekking out on foot across the U.S.-Mexico border all by their lonesome? Who promises a sold-out show with big-time sponsors at a big-time venue, then starts fight day off like this, a trio of Arizona wrestlers wandering across the Nogales desert with their gear slung over their shoulders like bindles?
Ah, the joys of regional MMA. None of them knew any better back then anyway.
“This was our first year of fighting. We were young and crazy. We didn’t give a f*ck really,” says MMA veteran C.B. Dollaway. “But this was one of the weirdest [experiences I’ve ever had].”
Bellator heavyweight champion Ryan Bader and his cohorts — fellow recent Arizona State University wrestling grads Dollaway and Cain Velasquez — may have been new to their MMA careers in the fall of 2007, but they’d already seen plenty of absurdity in their short times on the job. In just his third month of fighting professionally, Bader competed for pocket change in a rainstorm on a pier in the Cayman Islands. Because the fights were held outdoors and the promoter cheaped out for a junky vinyl canvas, rainwater pooled up in-cage like a shallow creek.